Joan Greenspan, a Seaford High School graduate who has multiple sclerosis, experienced new-found freedom on Aug 18 when she drove out of the Bussani Mobile Team garage in Bethpage in a new wheelchair-accessible van.
Greenspan, 56, a member of the class of 1979, drove straight to Runyon’s Restaurant in Seaford for a celebration with about 20 former classmates and friends.
Longtime friends Helaine Teuschler, Patti Gale, Barbara Callahan and Carol Langon helped organize fundraisers and gather donations for Greenspan’s van. Together, the community raised about $25,000, according to Karen Cass, president of the Seaford Chamber of Commerce — about $18,000 over the past few months through raffles, individual and business donations, and a fundraiser held at the Sunset Grill in Seaford. A fellow 1979 Seaford High graduate, James O’Donnell, donated another $7,000.
Cass explained that O’Donnell was overseas and was unable to attend the van unveiling, but, she said, he sent “his very best wishes and good health to Joan Greenspan and to everyone who helped in this fundraiser.”
“We are over the top [and] we don’t know how to thank him,” Langon said of O’Donnell. “We will eventually get ahold of him and thank him.”
Greenspan, who now lives in Copiague, first felt the effects of what she learned was MS in May 1984, when she was a student at Buffalo State University. Once as she walked home, she glanced at the metal bars of the Buffalo Psychiatric Center, and they appeared to be passing by her faster than she was walking. “I said to myself, ‘What . . . is going on?’” she re-called.
A doctor on Long Island performed a magnetic resonance imaging scan, and told Green-span’s mother that Joan had a brain tumor. MRIs were relatively new at the time, and a second diagnosis revealed that she in fact had multiple sclerosis, which causes symptoms such as tingling or weakness, paralysis, vertigo or dizziness and more, according to medicinenet.com.
Teuschler said she had asked Greenspan a while ago what would change her life. Green-span said she had heard about a wheelchair-accessible van, to which Teuschler responded, “We’re going to get it for you.”
Teuschler moved to North Carolina two weeks after that conversation, but organized fundraisers and a social media campaign from Raleigh, while Langon and Greenspan put together similar efforts locally.
Teuschler said that the community came together to help make Greenspan’s dream a reality. Runyon’s donated $250 in gift cards, and Seaford residents pitched in more donations, as did people from out of state, including an old friend of Greenspan’s who donated $500 for gas cards for her new vehicle.
“There was one blessing after another,” Teuschler said. “This is a real moment that will change her life.” At one point she asked Greenspan what was on her bucket list, and with tears in her eyes, she recounted her friend saying simply that “she just wanted to go to the supermarket and buy something.”
Greenspan said she felt amazing about receiving her new van. “This is the start of a new life,” she said. “It’s almost like a new birthday, ’cause I’ll be able to be independent and go wherever I need to go and do whatever I need to do and not have to have somebody with me all the time.”
For the past six years, she said, she has been “trapped” in her apartment, unable to leave without someone accompanying her. Greenspan said the ability to drive in her van whenever she wants will “open up a whole new world” for her.
“I could cry just thinking about it,” she said.